Chesterton Tribune

 

 

General clearing of the air as council continues work on salary raises

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Chesterton Town Council is not yet prepared to take action on municipal employees’ stagnant wages, but tangible progress is being made and an amendment to the 2018 Salary Ordinance could conceivably be presented to members at their next meeting, Monday, March 26.

That, from Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, at the council’s meeting Monday night.

Tangible progress is also being made, however, in another direction: that of civility, as Chesterton Police Department booster Bob Allison apologized for comments made on social media and Member Nate Cobbs, R-4th, addressed the allegation that he “laughed” at CPD Lt. Joe Christian during Christian’s presentation at the council’s Feb. 12 meeting.

The general air-clearing began when Allison--who served with the Chesterton Fire Department for 24 years and currently sits on the Tax Abatement Advisory Committee--apologized “to the Town Council, employees, and associates” for remarks he posted to social media following the Feb. 12 meeting. Those postings he called “insensitive, unwarranted, and unfair.”

“When something happens in town we all pull together,” Allison told members. “I think we can all agree on that. I’ve built a relationship with everyone in town and want you to know you’re being prayed for. If there’s anything I can do, other than pray, just ask.”

Then, at the end of the meeting, Cobbs took a moment to respond to the allegation that he laughed at Christian on Feb. 12, when Christian urged members to resign their seats if they are unable to take seriously the impact of stagnant wages on public safety.

“I was not laughing at anyone,” Cobbs said on Monday. “I smiled. I smiled out of sheer shock. I heard things I didn’t expect to. I smiled when I was asked to resign if I didn’t care about public safety. There’s nothing funny about public safety.”

Still, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns at Monday’s meeting. Following a presentation by MS4 Operator Jennifer Gadzala on a crowdfunding opportunity for the boxcar restroom in Thomas Centennial Park, Ryan Ritz from the floor objected to the cost of the project. “If you’re going to waste tax money on this,” he said, “why not give the police raises?”

To which President Lloyd Kittredge, R-2nd, responded that the boxcar restroom project is being chiefly funded with the proceeds of a $2-million park bond issued in 2015, moneys from which may be spent only on park projects, not on daily operations like wages.

“What’s the cost to the taxpayers in town?” Ritz persisted.

“Are we going to debate this?” asked Member Jim Ton, R-1st.

“We’re not going to debate this,” Kittredge replied.

“We see how much you care about public safety,” Ritz shot back.

At which time Kittredge gaveled Ritz down. “You’re out of order,” he said.

So matters concluded.

At the end of the meeting DeLaney did take pains to reassure municipal employees that genuine progress is being made, and that members are meeting--two at a time, so as not to violate the Open Door Law--with representatives of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141 and International Association of Firefighters Local 4600. In addition, DeLaney said, the town’s contracted financial advisor, London Witte Group, is working on finding “sustainable funding sources” for raises.

“We have made a lot of progress to get us within striking distance of other (municipalities’ public safety) departments,” DeLaney said. But, he added, “the council will need to continue this exercise on an annual basis to keep it sustainable. We have a wonderful town and wonderful employees and we’re looking at shortfall in the other departments. That is being done. We want to do this properly, we want this to work, and we want to get things to where they need to be.”

Ideally the council could consider an amendment to the 2018 Salary Ordinance at its next meeting, March 26, DeLaney said. Otherwise, an amendment should be on the table at its next one, Monday, April 9.

Ton, for his part, characterized salary discussions as “intense and wide-ranging,” but counseled patience. “We’re going into uncharted territory,” he said. “We’re thinking out of the box on this one. Don’t let your impatience guide your comments because that’s not constructive.”

Kittredge, meanwhile, thanked the roomful of municipal employees for coming to Monday’s meeting and repeated his plea for civility, made in a letter which Cobbs read for him at the council’s last meeting. “Please be respectful,” he said. “Please be constructive. Anything else is not productive.”

 

Posted 3/13/2018

 
 
 

 

 

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